Jungle Book Reimagined at Sadler’s Wells
Jungle Book Reimagined, Akram Kahn’s newest production, follows Mowgli, a climate refugee who is forced from her home by floodwater and separated from her family at sea.
The opening scene uses animation and audio of news reports in many different languages to paint a bleak picture of how rising water has forced people all over the world to flee their homes in search of higher ground. Beautifully drawn animation from YeastCulture shows us the Eiffel Tower bobbing on the water, Big Ben broken apart and a boiling sea polluted by discarded face masks, bottles and cans.
Mowgli falls from her family’s raft, is rescued by a whale, and wakes to a city abandoned by people and ruled over by a group of wolves. The wolves agree that Bagheera, a panther, should be her guardian.
The animals in this city have all been mistreated by humans and are still suffering. In this reimagining Baloo is an escaped dancing bear, and his fluid, natural movements are interrupted by the people-pleasing routines he was forced to perform. Specimen One is a monkey who was experimented upon; frenetic, staccato choreography for the character communicates the trauma of repeated violation. Meanwhile, Mowgli is not the only human left in the city: a hunter is stalking the animals, and the second act delivers an emotional punch as he shoots and kills one of them.
Animation, dance and voiceover all work together to tell the story, which frees up the dancers to commit totally to their roles. While their movements can feel exaggerated, this blend of physical and digital storytelling makes the plot easier to follow and more accessible for younger viewers.
The most powerful moments come when the company move together as one, mimicking the rising waters or grieving the loss of their friend. They blend contemporary dance with kathak movements, flexing their feet and synchronising their arm gestures. This blending of styles is echoed in Jocelyn Pook’s atmospheric music, which merges lush vocals with loud static and repeated clips from Greta Thunberg’s “how dare you” speech to underline the sense of emergency.
The message of this haunting production is clear: humans are not the owners of this world, we are guests here. And if we don’t learn to live alongside nature it will be too late for us all.
The Jungle Book Reimagined is at Sadler’s Wells from 12th until 15th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.